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Empty Cups and Oxygen Masks

There has been a proverb that has surfaced on the internet recently saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” I believe it is a paraphrase from renowned author and speaker, Eleanor Brownn: “You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” Likewise, if you’ve ever been on an airplane, you’ve probably heard the flight attendants do their scripted emergency procedure talk before take-off. Part of this announcement tells the passengers that if there is a loss of cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will come down from the compartment above each seat to assist in breathing. They are always sure to say something to the effect of “please secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.”

These examples are exactly how I think of proper self-care. It’s like having an overflowing cup or a secure oxygen mask. We cannot appropriately help someone else or give of our full selves until our needs are taken care of. Imagine trying to give someone a drink of water if you don’t have water to give them. Or worse – caring for a sick person when you yourself are sick. To quote a character from one of my all-time favorite movies (I’ll let you guess which one), “It would be absolutely, totally, and in all other ways inconceivable*.” If you are a parent or caregiver, you know this all too well. Children and those who cannot care for themselves take a lot of attention. Without time to recharge, rest, and receive some self-care, people tend to burn out, become resentful or short-tempered, or even get sick.

Sadly, relationships also suffer when self-care is ignored. You have already expended your energy on other things, people, or situations, and you have nothing left to share with the people you care most about. I honestly believe this is why there is so much increased conflict in couples with young children. So much of the focus and attention goes towards their kids that the couple has next to nothing left for each other let alone themselves. Without a conscious effort to shift the focus towards each other, the default action is almost always going to be directed towards the kids.

Now you may be saying, “But my kids need me!” Yes, of course they need you. Please believe me when I tell you that you’re not going to completely ignore them by giving more attention to your mate or (heaven forbid!) yourself. Honestly, they may even thank you for it! You’ll be modeling healthy behaviors, boundaries, and relationships for them. These will be lessons they will learn from you about how to be a functioning adult in a busy and demanding world.

So how do you balance it all? Maybe thinking about self-care and relationship-care feels overwhelming when you add it into all that you’re already doing. I’ll start you off with three simple things you can do for both yourself and your partner:

For yourself:

  1. Take an extra-long bath or shower and imagine your stressful thoughts and feeling going down the drain.

  2. Go for a walk around your neighborhood, sit on your porch or balcony, or find some way to get outside and connect with nature (FUN FACT! Sunshine is a natural mood-booster!)

  3. Do something nice for yourself at least once a week – a therapeutic massage, reading a good book, exercising, meditating, journaling, coloring… the possibilities are endless!

For your mate:

  1. Give them a hug. Like a real hug for at least 20 seconds. This will release oxytocin and endorphins in the brain and build a stronger emotional connection for you both.

  2. Express your appreciation and say thank you often, even about small things like picking up the toys, making dinner, or spending time with you. The small things typically make the most difference.

  3. Make an effort to show interest in your partner’s interests. Ask questions, engage, and actually talk to each other using eye contact.

There are numerous other ways to practice self-care and relationship-care, but these are a good few to get the ball rolling. If you find that you are finding it difficult to practice healthy self-care and relationship-care, I’d be happy to meet with you. Give me a call at 720-381-2755 or email me at tradewindstherapy at gmail dot com to set up our first appointment today.

* The movie reference (in case you missed it) was from Vizzini's character in "The Princess Bride" portrayed by actor, Wallace Shawn. If you have yet to see this classic movie or haven't seen it in a while, maybe this could be added to one of your self-care activities for the week!

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